"As Chairman, I want to communicate directly with you about litigation that BCHA and its partners filed last week in Federal District Court in order to protect our ongoing use and enjoyment of national forest trails. BCHA rarely enters into litigation. The last time we did so was in 2006, when the US Forest Service unilaterally, and without seeking public review and comment, proposed a change in its Trail Classification Standards that would have harmed the interests of BCHA and its membership. We ended up settling that lawsuit with the agency and, remarkably, our relationship ended up stronger as a result.
Tahoe National Forest Authorization of Electric Bikes on 132 Miles of Non-Motorized Trails
On October 23rd, 2019, the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) filed a lawsuit with the Eastern California Federal District Court on behalf of BCHA, BCH California and its Mother Lode Unit, The Wilderness Society, and two local organizations over the Tahoe National Forest's stealth authorization of electric bike (e-Bike) use on 132 miles of non-motorized trails. The authorization happened early this summer and without any opportunity for public review, comment, and environmental analyses.
The text of the lawsuit can be found here.
For more background on this and the broader e-Bike issue, please refer to the Public Lands Report in BCHA's Fall 2019 newsletter.
BCHA has never been quick to support litigation. It can result in strained relationships and comes with several potential downsides, including not yielding the result we might want. But in this case, members of our co-plaintiff team were consistently rebuffed by personnel from the Tahoe National Forest when we inquired about this (unannounced) change in policy. In addition, our joint "demand letter" to the Forest Supervisor, which we submitted on September 9, 2019, went unanswered. Given the magnitude of pressure being exerted by e-Bike proponents on federal land management agencies, we felt compelled to take a stand.
Objectives of the Lawsuit
Our primary objectives for filing this lawsuit were to compel the Tahoe National Forest to rescind its approval of e-Bike use on non-motorized trails, close these trails to e-Bike use, and to cease advertising the new system of trails via the forest's website. <https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/tahoe/home/?cid=fseprd641773&width=full>
If the agency still felt compelled to re-designate trails for e-Bike use, we would insist on a public process where all stakeholders could review and provide formal comment. We further hope the lawsuit will act to place a freeze on any national forest that might be poised to authorize e-Bikes on non-motorized trails in the absence of a transparent and public process.
WELC has yet to be notified about which judge the District Court will assign to this case. Importantly, the filing of the lawsuit should not affect your day-to-day interactions with the US Forest Service. If anything, it might serve as a feather in our cap that demonstrates to agency personnel BCHA's commitment to, and support of, the need for a full public process when decisions are made that affect trail classification standards and trail management objectives. I would be interested to hear from you if, however, you receive any negative feedback from Forest Service personnel regarding the lawsuit. It never hurts to better understand any criticisms leveled at BCHA and our tactics in keeping pack and saddle stock trails open and enjoyable to our membership.
Should you or your chapter receive any inquiries from the press/media about this case, please convey that BCHA's spokesperson on this issue is Randy Rasmussen, BCHA's Director for Public Lands & Recreation. Please refrain from providing your personal opinion to the media, as BCHA wants to ensure our public message remains consistent with that of our fellow co-plaintiffs.
Working Proactively to Address Threats to Our Mission
I hope you'll agree that by taking this action, BCHA is being proactive on behalf of our membership in order to perpetuate the common sense use and enjoyment of horses (and mules!) in America's backcountry and wilderness. I believe this is yet another valuable role that BCHA serves our 31 states and nearly 200 chapters. Moreover, BCHA's exploration and implementation of this lawsuit was done in close coordination with, and with the unanimous support of, BCH California and its Mother Lode Unit. As Chairman, it's another example of the incredible value that is realized when all three elements of BCHA national, BCH state, and the local BCH chapter at work in unison to advance the interests of our membership.
Back Country Horsemen of America